DOES DONALD TRUMP have even an ounce of shame?
As a presidential candidate, he spent much of the election campaign needling, critiquing, denouncing and even threatening the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Yet as president, he is making his first foreign visit this weekend to … the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Even by Trumpian standards, the volte-face is brazen. In his first few months in power, we have witnessed the trademark Trump Turnabout on issues ranging from NATO to China to the Export-Import Bank. We have listened to him go from praising Bashar al Assad and rebuking Janet Yellen on the campaign trail, to praising Yellen and rebuking Assad in office. Last October, he said the then-FBI Director James Comey had “guts” for doing “the right thing”; last week, he sacked Comey and called him a “showboat” and a “grandstander.”
Trump, to put it mildly, is no stranger to the shameless U-turn. Still, the Trump Turnabout on Saudi Arabia — one of America’s closest allies since President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud aboard the USS Murphy in 1945 — is a true sight to behold. This weekend, Trump will arrive in Saudi Arabia for a bilateral summit with King Salman as well as a series of meetings with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
There will be handshakes, hugs and smiles galore. We will be expected to forget how Trump blasted the Saudi royals for being freeloaders and threatened them with an economic boycott. Speaking to the New York Times last year, Trump claimed that, without U.S. support and protection, “Saudi Arabia wouldn’t exist for very long.” The real problem, he continued, was that the Saudis are “a money machine … and yet they don’t reimburse us the way we should be reimbursed.” Asked if he would be willing to “stop buying oil from the Saudis” if they refused to pull their weight, Trump responded: “Oh yeah, sure. I would do that.”
We will be also expected to ignore the fact that Trump slammed the Saudi government for executing homosexuals and treating women “horribly.” In the third presidential debate last October, Trump attacked Hillary Clinton for taking $25 million from the Saudis, from “people that push gays off … buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly and yet you take their money.”
Perhaps above all else, we will be expected to brush under the carpet the fact that, twice in a single day, Trump accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the 9/11 attacks. “Who blew up the World Trade Center?” Trump asked his pals at Fox and Friends on the morning of February 17, 2016. “It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi — take a look at Saudi Arabia, open the documents.”
At a campaign event in South Carolina later that day, he again cited “secret papers” that could prove it was “the Saudis” who were in fact responsible for the attacks on 9/11. “It wasn’t the Iraqis that knocked down the World Trade Center … because they have papers in there that are very secret, you may find it’s the Saudis, okay?”
(To be fair to Trump, far more credible and better-informed figures have come to a similar conclusion: “I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” wrote former Florida senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the Senate intelligence committee’s inquiry into 9/11, in an affidavit in 2012.)
Whether or not the Saudi government played a role in the 9/11 attacks — and we may never know — for a leading U.S. presidential candidate to claim that they did, not once but twice, had to be seen to be believed. And yet, astonishingly, a little over a year later, it is to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that Trump has chosen to make his maiden foreign voyage — rather than to Canada or Mexico, as every president since Ronald Reagan has.
Will Trump return from his Saudi jaunt with a big fat check? His much-hyped “reimbursement”? Will he dare raise the issue of gay rights while in Riyadh? Or women’s rights? Will he manage to bring back a Saudi royal or two in handcuffs for their (alleged) role in the 9/11 attacks? Please. There are greater odds of the American president coming back as a proud convert to Islam.
Hypocrisy is not the exclusive preserve of Trump or the United States, of course. Saudi Arabia sees itself as the “the birthplace of Islam,” ruled by a king who styles himself “custodian of the two holy mosques.” Yet this coming weekend, the Saudi government will offer a warm and lavish welcome to a president who has said “Islam hates us” and wanted to ban all of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims from entering the United States. The Saudi position on the latest iteration of the Trump travel ban, targeted at 170-million-odd Muslims? A “sovereign” decision aimed, apparently, at “preventing terrorists from entering the United States of America” and made by a “true friend of Muslims.”
On Sunday, the fawning Saudis will offer a platform to the world’s most famous Islamophobe, to give a speech on Islam in “the birthplace” of Islam. And Trump will likely take the opportunity to decry “radical Islamic terrorism” while visiting a country which has perhaps done more than any other to incite, fund and fuel it.
Hypocrisy unites them both. So too does their fear and loathing of the Iranians — the Saudis are busying dropping bombs and backing militants to push back Iranian influence in Yemen and Syria. The Trump administration, filled with Iran hawks, is on the verge of inking a series of arms deals with Riyadh worth more than $100 billion.
To be clear: Trump’s U-turn on Saudi Arabia has little to do with being moderated by the realities of high office or swayed by the Beltway’s foreign policy elites. Despite his bombastic campaign rhetoric, he never planned to go after the Saudis in office — even after publicly accusing them of murdering 3,000 Americans. Early on in the campaign, in 2015, a senior Arab diplomat told me, on condition of anonymity, that Trump had informed most of the Gulf governments, in private, that his anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric was “all for the campaign” and that it would be business as usual once he was elected (or, for that matter, defeated).
As ever, for Trump, it is always, above all else, about the bottom line — his bottom line. The Saudi-bashing Trump sold an entire floor of the Trump World Tower to the Saudis for $4.5 million in 2001. And would it surprise you to discover that Trump also registered eight companies tied to hotel interests in Saudi Arabia in the midst of his Saudi-bashing presidential campaign?
Of course not. Business is business. Trump is Trump. You might be repulsed by his deceitfulness…but you have to admire his chutzpah.
Rep. Ellison, Rep. Emmer, and Colleagues Introduce Resolution Condemning Terror Attack in Mogadishu
WASHINGTON — On the one-month anniversary of the October 14th terror attack on Mogadishu, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), along with Reps. Steve Stivers (R-OH), Karen Bass (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), and Denny Heck (D-WA) introduced House Resolution 620, which condemns the attack, expresses sympathy for its victims and their families, and reaffirms U.S. support for Somalia.
The October 14th terror attack killed more than 350 people, including three American citizens, and injured another 200—making it the single deadliest in Somalia’s history.
“It’s been a month since the terrible and cowardly attack on Mogadishu, and my heart still breaks for the people of Somalia and their families and friends here in the United States,” Ellison said. “The people of Somalia have shown incredible resilience— coming together not only as part of an inspiring effort to recover from this attack, but also to rebuild their nation in the spirit of peace and prosperity. I am proud to stand with my colleagues to express solidarity with the people of Somalia by strongly condemning the senseless violence, extending our condolences to all those affected by the attack, and reaffirming continued U.S. support for Somalia.”
“Just over a month ago, Mogadishu experienced a horrific and tragic terrorist attack,” said Emmer. “This attack hit close to home with three of our fellow Americans – including one Minnesotan – among the more than 350 men, women and children who lost their lives far too soon. I stand with my colleagues and the Somali community to condemn last month’s attack. I am proud to work with my colleagues to offer condolences and lend support as Somalia works to rebuild itself and its communities in the wake of this recent tragedy. Today, and every day, we stand against terror and join together to rid this world of evil.”
The full text of the resolution reads as follows:
“Strongly condemning the terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 2017, and expressing condolences and sympathies to the victims of the attack and their families.
Whereas on October 14, 2017, a truck bomb filled with military grade and homemade explosives detonated at a busy intersection in the center of Mogadishu, Somalia, and took the lives of more than 350 people and injured more than 200 additional people;
Whereas at least three Americans, Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, Mohamoud Elmi, and Abukar Dahie, were killed in the attack;
Whereas the Somali Government believes that Al-Shabaab was responsible for the attack, although no official claims of responsibility have yet been made;
Whereas Al-Shabaab has previously avoided claiming responsibility for Al Shabaab operations when it believes the operation may significantly damage its public image among Somalis;
Whereas the Department of State condemned ‘‘in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks that killed and injured hundreds in Mogadishu on October 14’’;
Whereas the Department of State stated that ‘‘the United States will continue to stand with the Somali government, its people, and our international allies to combat terrorism and support their efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity’’;
Whereas according to the Department of State’s Country Report on Terrorism for 2016, Al-Shabaab is the most potent threat to regional stability in East Africa;
Whereas the United States continues to support counterterrorism efforts in coordination with the Government of Somalia, international partners, and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mainly through capacity building programs, advise and assist missions, and intelligence support;
Whereas Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, declared three days of national mourning in response to the attack;
Whereas the vibrant, bustling district of Mogadishu where the attack occurred is characteristic of the city’s revitalization, and the solidarity and efforts by the city’s residents to rebuild already are a testament to their resilience; and
Whereas Somalia has been a strong partner to the United States: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 2017;
(2) expresses its heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies for the victims of the attack and their families;
(3) honors the memories of Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, Mohamoud Elmi, and Abukar Dahie, who were murdered in the horrific terrorist attack;
(4) recognizes the significant efforts to combat terrorism by the Government of Somalia, the countries contributing troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia, and United States forces in Somalia;
(5) reaffirms United States support for the Government of Somalia’s efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity and combat terrorism in Somalia; and
(6) renews the solidarity of the people and Government of the United States with the people and Government of Somalia.”
Newcomer Mazahir Salih wins Iowa City Council seat
IOWA CITY — Two familiar faces were re-elected to the Iowa City Council Tuesday night, while newcomer Mazahir Salih won the third open seat.
Current at-large member Susan Mims was elected to her third term on council, this time to represent District B after defeating opponent and University of Iowa student Ryan Hall with 4,197 votes to 2,920.
Mayor Pro Tem Kingsley Botchway II, with 5,638, votes was re-elected to his at-large seat, after both he and Salih, with 5,573 votes, beat out opponent and Nighttime Mayor Angela Winnike, who tallied 1,388 votes.
“(I’m) very pleased to have the opportunity to serve the community for another four years,” Mims said, adding that she believes now the council will review and update its strategic plan. “I would think it would look a lot similar to what we have.
“We’ve still got a lot of things to do on the environmental stuff, climate change, affordable housing. I don’t think we’ll see significant changes because we’re still in the middle of a lot of those things.”
All three terms are for four years each. Tuesday’s election winners will join current Mayor Jim Throgmorton as well as council members Rockne Cole, Pauline Taylor and John Thomas.
Current District B representative Terry Dickens did not seek re-election.
During the campaign, both Salih and Botchway discussed improving Iowa City’s affordable housing situation. The current council adopted an Affordable Housing Action Plan, which was approved in September 2016, to address the lack of appropriate housing within the city.
Botchway said now that some work on the affordable housing issue is underway, he also wants to emphasize creating mental health programs and policies in his next term.
“That’s a larger conversation and we need to get a lot of stakeholders together,” Botchway said, noting that some area officials already have undergone crisis intervention training. “The mental health platform that I’ve discussed is a little more comprehensive than that in making sure to focus on mental illness across the board.”
Salih, who worked as a community organizer with the Center for Worker Justice, expressed interested during the campaign in improving the city’s transit system, especially for low-income residents. The public transportation system currently offers no service on Sundays with hourly stops on weekdays on most routes.
“I think low-wage workers, they need transportation on Sunday, after hours like second shift,” said Salih, who could not be reached for comment by deadline on Tuesday for this story. “While I talk to people in this community, some people have great ideas but they cannot participate on, like, City Council meetings, school board meetings because transportation ends early in some parts of the city.”
Iowa City Council members earn a salary of $7,155.20, while the mayor receives $8,153.60, according to an email from City Clerk Kellie Fruehling. The salaries are adjusted for inflation at the end of each September but aren’t implemented until July 1.
This year saw low voter turnout, with only 15.5 percent of registered voters showing up to polls Tuesday. In the 2015 city election, Iowa City saw a 15.2 percent turnout while 2013 had a 22.39 percent turnout, thanks in part to a ballot measure that concerned an under-21 bar ordinance.
“We saw early voting numbers down, but we were hoping that people would turn out today. I mean these are very key races,” said Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert Tuesday afternoon.
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Gunman kills at least 26 worshipers at small-town Texas church
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – A gunman dressed in black tactical gear massacred at least 26 worshipers and wounded 20 others at a white-steepled church in Texas on Sunday, carrying out the latest in a series of mass shootings that have plagued the United States.
The lone suspect, also wearing a ballistic vest and carrying a Ruger assault rifle, fired into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and kept shooting after he went inside. Sutherland Springs is in Wilson County, about 40 miles (65 km) east of San Antonio.
The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old, law enforcement officials told a news conference. Among the dead was the 14-year-old daughter of Pastor Frank Pomeroy, the family told several television stations.
After the shooting, the gunman, described as a white man in his 20s, was fired on by a local resident with a rifle. The suspect dropped his assault weapon, and fled in his vehicle, said Freeman Martin, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Soon afterward, the suspect crashed his vehicle near the border of neighboring Guadalupe County and was found dead inside with a cache of weapons.
It was not immediately clear if the suspect killed himself or was hit when the resident fired at him outside the church, authorities said.
“We are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our state’s history,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at the news conference. “The tragedy of course is worsened by the fact that it occurred in a church, a place of worship where these people were innocently gunned down.”
The suspect’s identity was not disclosed by authorities, but law enforcement officials who asked not to be named said he was Devin Patrick Kelley, described as a white, 26-year-old man, the New York Times and other media reported.
“We don’t think he had any connection to this church,” Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told CNN. “We have no motive.”
‘ACT OF EVIL’
Jeff Forrest, a 36-year-old military veteran who lives a block away from the church, said what sounded like high-caliber, semi-automatic gunfire triggered memories of his four combat deployments with the Marine Corps.
“I was on the porch, I heard 10 rounds go off and then my ears just started ringing,” Forrest said. “I hit the deck and I just lay there.”
The massacre came just weeks after a sniper killed 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The shootings have stirred a years-long national debate over whether easy access to firearms was contributing to the trend.
President Donald Trump said he was monitoring the situation while in Japan on a 12-day Asian trip.
“This act of evil occurred as the victims and their families were in their place of sacred worship,” the president said. “Through the tears and through the sadness we stand strong, oh so strong.”
According to the witnesses, about 20 shots rang out at 11:30 a.m. (1730 GMT) during the church services, according to media reports. It was unclear how many worshipers were inside at the time.
Connally Memorial Medical Center in Floresville received eight patients, the hospital said in a statement, while Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston received another eight.
At Connally, three people were treated and released, one is in critical condition and four were transferred to the University Hospital in San Antonio for a higher level of care.
The First Baptist Church is one of two houses of worship in Sutherland Springs, an area home to fewer than 900 residents, according to the 2010 Census. There are also two gas stations and a Dollar General store in town.
The white-painted, one-story structure features a small steeple and a single front door. On Sunday, the Lone Star flag of Texas was flying alongside the U.S. flag and a third, unidentified banner.
Inside, there is a small raised platform on which members sang worship songs to guitar music and the pastor delivered a weekly sermon, according to videos posted on YouTube. In one of the clips, a few dozen people, including young children, can be seen sitting in the wooden pews.
SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE
While authorities provided little information about the suspect, online records show that a man named Devon Patrick Kelley lived in New Braunfels, Texas, about 35 miles (56 km) north of Sutherland Springs.
The U.S. Air Force said Kelley served in its Logistics Readiness unit at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge.
Kelley’s Facebook page has been deleted, but cached photos show a profile picture where he appeared with two small children. He also posted a photo of what appeared to be an assault rifle, writing a post that read: “she’s a bad bitch.”
The shooting occurred on the eighth anniversary of the Nov. 5, 2009, massacre of 13 people at the Fort Hood Army base in central Texas. A U.S. Army Medical Corps psychiatrist convicted of the killings is now awaiting execution.
In 2015, a white gunman killed nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The gunman was sentenced to death for the racially motivated attack.
In September, a gunman killed a woman in the parking lot of a Tennessee church on Sunday morning and wounded six worshipers inside the building before shooting himself in a scuffle with an usher who rushed to stop the attack.
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